Natasha Hart MBE
Natasha Hart moved to east London from her native Russia 26 years ago. She had played basketball in her youth and as a mother she wanted to pass on her love for the game to her two teenage sons. In 2005, she took them to Balaam Park in Plaistow to give them an impromptu basketball lesson. Her sons loved it and told their friends, while other young people in the park asked to join in. Within weeks, 30 young people were taking part in the sessions.
The need for a fun, safe, healthy activity was obvious. In 2006, Natasha created the charity Newham All Star Sports Academy (NASSA) with just £20 in the bank to provide basketball sessions for young people in the London Borough of Newham. Those young people over the age of 16 were given the opportunity to gain basketball coaching qualifications and to shape NASSA’s future as well as their own.
Backgrounds and personal circumstances were unimportant. Natasha offered a fresh start to everyone. Her aim has always been to produce good citizens as much as great basketball players. Most of all, she wants to create good citizens for Newham. The mentoring talks delivered by NASSA coaches under its Carry A Basketball Not A Blade (CABNAB), initiative educates 2,000 young people in Newham schools and colleges every week about the dangers of knife crime and gang culture.
Natasha views NASSA as a vehicle for educating the young people in her charge and for giving them access to opportunities that often do not exist for young people in disadvantaged communities such as Newham. Using links with her homeland, she arranged a visit to Newham by the Dynamo Moscow basketball club in September 2015. This included a unique match between the Under-15s sides of NASSA and Dynamo as well as a reception at the Houses of Parliament to which the NASSA young people were also invited.
Local stakeholders have always been central to Natasha’s vision for NASSA. She works tirelessly to keep her local partners, which include Tate & Lyle Sugars, London City Airport, the University of East London, ExCel and the London Borough of Newham, informed about the charity and its programmes and achievements. Natasha holds the unique distinction of having carried torches at consecutive Olympiads. She was invited to carry the Olympic Torch for the London 2012 Games and, hailing from the Sochi region of Russia, she was then chosen to carry the Paralympic Torch ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.
In June 2015, Natasha was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to Sport in East London. She is adamant that every award has been an award for NASSA, not herself. On receiving the MBE, Natasha said:
“If I could, I would share this honour with everyone in the NASSA family because the players, the parents, the coaches, the volunteers, they all deserve it.”